Flowers Use Caffeine to Attract Bees.
Of course, a flower is optimized to attract bees for pollination, but scientists recently discovered that in some flowering plants it is the caffeine in the nectar that seals the deal. Coffee and citrus flowers that contain caffeine are much more likely to be remembered by bees than flowers without caffeine. The theory is that caffeine acts on bees in a manner similar to humans it enhances alertness and memory. Bees that just feasted on caffeine-loaded nectar are more likely to remember the location and physical attributes of that flower and return to it.
Orphaned Tiger Too Tame to Release.
In 2009, a Bengal tiger cub in India was orphaned when his mother disappeared, possibly killed. Zookeepers at the Bor Wildlife Sanctuary raised the cub, named him Bhangaram and hoped to release him into the wild once he reached adulthood. When that day came recently, the zookeepers decided to develop hunting skills for Bhangaram, which he never had a chance to learn from his mother. They released a goat into his enclosure, hoping his instincts would take over and he would make a quick kill. Instead, the tamed tiger befriended the goat and played with it for two days, showing no intention of eating it despite being hungry. Apparently, the window to learn hunting skills closed on Bhangaram. Conservationists caution that however charming this story may appear, it is one more small catastrophe for wild tigers whose world population has plummeted almost 97% in the past twenty years.
How Did the Wolf Get to the Falkland Islands?
Although extinct today, the Falkland Islands Wolf was a mystery to 17th-century explorers and scientists who wondered how this solitary mammal found its way there when even rodents did not. At one time it was hypothesized that the wolf was brought to the Falklands by humans in a semi-domesticated state. However, it appears that the solution is a more natural one. At the height of the last glacial period between 18,000 and 25,000 years ago, the strait separating the Falklands from the Argentine mainland would periodically freeze over. Wolves from the mainland, in search of seals, penguins and water birds, crossed over the frozen strait and eventually made the Falklands their home.
Should Extinct Species Be Brought Back?
There is a consensus in the scientific community that at least some extinct species can technically be brought back through cloning techniques. However, critics have decried the significant expense of such efforts and have questioned whether or not we can ethically justify experimenting with individual clones, which may have little or no chance of natural re-population now that their habitats are gone. In this article from National Geographic, several scientists provide short opinion video clips and explore the pros and cons of “de-extinction.”
Even Galapagos Tortoises Have an Annual Migration.
The giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands don’t move very fast and they don’t go very far. However, new research shows that they nevertheless do migrate if only a few miles. Stephen Blake, a researcher at Max Planck Institute in Germany tracked the tortoises and discovered that they graze on grass in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos and slowly migrate to the lowlands in December, which is the start of the rainy season. Although no match for the land migrating record holder, the caribou, which migrates 700 miles, and not even close to birds, which circumnavigate the globe, the discovery that these tortoises do in fact migrate is a scientific first.
San Diego Condor Chick Released into the Wild.
The California Condor is an endangered species. In the 1980s, fewer than two dozen wild birds remained. Today, thanks in part to conservation efforts by the San Diego Zoo, many additional condor chicks have been hatched and released bringing the total number of wild animals up to around 400. But raising a condor chick from an egg is no easy matter. The zookeepers use a “condor puppet glove” a glove that looks like a condor so that the young birds do not imprint on humans when they hatch and become dependent on them for food. The first condor chick hatched this season has been named “Wesa” and it is already eating up to 15 mice a day.
Curiosity Finds Mars Was Once Habitable.
There is excitement in the scientific community over the latest results from the Mars Curiosity rover experiments. A sample of Martian rock drilled out by Curiosity from what might have been an ancient lake bed has revealed a type of clay that contains all of the necessary elements to support life. That finding, together with the conclusion that fresh water was once present, means that Mars is the first confirmed extraterrestrial body where life was once possible. The next question is did Mars in fact have at least microbial life? The answer to that may not be forthcoming until future Martian visits.
We all know it’s important to recycle, but Global Animal presents a list of six recycling animals. You’ll meet birds that recycle papers clips and string; a dung beetle that recycles, well, dung; and a hermit crab that recycles bottle caps.
Trouble for the Monarch Butterfly.
One of the most famous migrating insects, the beautiful monarch butterfly, may be in serious trouble. The number of monarchs that were able to arrive in Mexico for their annual migration hit a 20-year low. A census conducted by Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas this year counted only 2.94 forest acres occupied by the monarchs. In the past, as many as 50 acres of the forest were occupied. What is decimating the monarchs? One major factor is changes in United States farmland management. Milkweed, a monarch staple food source which was once ubiquitous among corn crops, is now being virtually eliminated by modern pesticides. The second factor is extreme weather, which includes record drought and heat. Experts warn that if the monarch population declines much further, it’s future may be unrecoverable.
Missing Butterfly Species Found Using Google Earth.
The Waterberg copper butterfly was a native of South Africa but was confined to a single microhabitat located in the Waterberg Mountains. The butterfly was last seen in 1994 and since then its original habitat underwent major ecological changes. Scientists were concerned that the insect was gone forever until one sharpeyed researcher did a search for similar habitats in South Africa using Google Earth, a free online program that generates detailed 3D maps of most of the world. That’s when he spotted an “isolated plateau near the town of Bela Bela, about 50 kilometers from the Waterberg copper’s previously known habitat.” Sure enough, when researchers checked out the area they rediscovered the Waterberg copper butterfly.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.